Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Nature Unveiling Herself before Science

male creative genius versus woman as nature
The statue 'Nature Unveiling Herself before Science' graces the entrance to the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University.

The object of a scientist's study has long been characterised as female/nature with the male scientist seeking mastery over her; penetrating or unveiling her secrets. In 1899, a statue was exhibited of a young woman uncovering her breasts in the gesture of bridal unveiling which illustrates this conception, science was represented as a male prerogative, a masculine practice of looking at and interpreting a female object.

According to some feminist theory, the epistemology of 'masculine' science is the relentless drive to seek out nature, to penetrate her veils in order to isolate the single principle that governs her behavior. As Michel Foucault notes, the veil is an important metaphor in this practice. This image has been explored in some detail by Ludmilla Jordanova in her description of the statue 'Nature Unveiling Herself before Science': "The figure of the young woman is covered except for her breasts, and she raises both her hands to the veil on her head in order to remove it". In Sexual Anarchy, Elaine Showalter imagines a complementary statue, 'Science Looking at Nature': "a fully clothed man, whose gaze was bold, direct, and keen, the penetrating gaze of intellectual and sexual mastery".

Free Image Hosting at 'La Nature se Devoilant devant la Science', bronze statue created around 1899 by Louis-Ernest Barrias (1841-1905). Barrias's seductively draped female figure represents, in allegorical form, Nature revealing her secrets to Science, a fitting theme for the late nineteenth century. The interest in nature literally apparent in the work of the Barbizon school and the Impressionists is here portrayed in the symbolic manner favored by Salon sculptors. The erotic overtones of the figure's pose and the richly varied colors of the bronze surface are characteristic of the opulent taste of the late nineteenth century, while the flowing linear patterns of the drapery and the curving outline of the figure suggest the forms of Art Nouveau.


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